Monday, January 31, 2011

The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster – 25 Years On

Even though this tragic event never managed to halt America’s manned space exploration program, has the lessons learned from the Challenger disaster been heeded?

By: Ringo Bones

To us space exploration enthusiasts, January 28, 1986 seems like almost yesterday, and yet the date marking one of the tragic events in the history of America’s manned space exploration program as always has been observed in the usual low-key and solemn manner as the years go by. As the date marking the tragic event is now 25 years behind us, it has never seemed to dampen the folks at NASA on their drive to explore humanity’s final frontier.

At 73 seconds after lift-off, it wasn’t just the tenured crew members and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe that had perished 25 years ago, the inner drive of space enthusiasts around the world almost perished along with Challenger’s crew. The launch of the Hubble Space Telescope was delayed to the near-detriment of the now-famed space-based telescope. The Galileo spacecraft – after a long launch delay – was launched without its famed powerful rocket boosters to be launched from low-Earth-orbit deemed too dangerous in the wake of the Challenger disaster. Instead was launched via gravity assist to a circuitous path that sent it to a detour to the planet Venus before going en route to Jupiter.

Though the faulty O-Rings on the SRBs have been deemed the primary culprits of the Challenger explosion, the weak links of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet was not given due diligence when falling chunks of insulation foam from the main fuel tanks caused the tragic break-up during re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia back in February 2003. Has the lessons of the Challenger disaster been heeded?

As America’s Space Shuttle fleet is slated to be retired because it has become increasingly uneconomic to operate and the myriad parts needed to operate them are too complex to guarantee the safety of the crew, NASA’s final Shuttle flight could happen this year. Nonetheless, we live in hope that something better and cheaper will replace NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet because manned space exploration is just too costly for all mankind to be discontinued.

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